It had to be Hungary.
For years the Right had discussed its developments in shielded environments. Think-tanks. Any of Steve Bannon’s summits where globalism, esoteric Traditionalism, and neo-fascistic concepts of volk and the breaking of cycles are blended together in a postmodern, dangerous stew. In the depths of online groups that lionized authoritarian violence as the only means forward.
As I documented in a recent article for The Daily Beast, it wasn’t a coincidence that the presidency of Donald Trump, with its appeals to “culture” and dependence on the “crisis at the border” were echoes of the playbook that had effectively drug Hungary years and years back and into the murky waters of illiberal democracy.
The rise of Viktor Orbán and his triumph over the political structure in Hungary was a roadmap of how a Right Wing movement could use the structures of government to counteract pluralism and democracy in the age of cratering globalism.
But to what end? If the lionization of Orbán and the week-long boot-licking by Tucker Carlson was effective in introducing Hungary and its state of illiberal democracy to Fox News viewers, what was the purpose? What might that actually achieve anyway?
To understand what Carlson, Bannon, and now a growing segment of the Right are trying to do via looking to Hungary and Orbán, it must first be understood why so much of the rhetoric, including the very first words Tucker spoke from his coverage and the continual drone of Bannon and his surrogates, are so centered around the concept of “Western Civilization” and the dire need to protect it.
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Let’s be clear: when Steve Bannon looked at Donald Trump, all he saw was an opportunity.
Even in some of the circles where Trump enjoyed unconditional support, and still does to this day, the members pledging undying loyalty understand he is woefully incompetent. But his intangible qualities, namely his abilities to connect with a segment of the GOP’s base, total lack of regard for democratic institutions, and inability to feel shame, made him an incredibly useful actor. What Trump revealed, almost immediately with his candidacy, was that the guardrails of American politics were, and probably always had been, imaginary constructs within which politicians had only operated in because of fear or a sense of ethical decency.
Trump’s behavior sent a message to a GOP that had become fundamentally isolated and relegated to pursuing an aging and fading white constituency. In the past, this fact, beginning in the Civil Rights Era, had constituted a check that was always going to come due, sooner or later. But as Trump tore down one barrier against authoritarianism after another, after he only cemented his angry base with bald-faced lies and racist paranoia, a new future emerged.
The Right is, and always has been, fundamentally anti-democratic. The advent of liberalism, with its individual rights, representative government, and an emphasis on pluralism, always constituted an affront and danger to the aristocratic control the Right heralded above all other things. From the very moment liberalism appeared and asserted itself, both in the United States and in France, the Right has worked tirelessly to rein in its effects, using underhanded means such as allowing the wealthiest citizens to buy the processes of government and spreading constant, weaponized conspiracy theories that allowed it to control culture and information.
Destruction of liberalism has always been the goal, but as long as America has operated with the illusion of an open society and democracy, including the hidden operations of white supremacy and oppression of opposing groups, the Right has happily used the United States as a base of operation and hid behind the rhetoric of liberty, freedom, and equality, all of which were slogans and rhetoric used by the Founding Fathers to spur the War For Independence and then hide the aristocratic, racist nature of the founding itself.
What Bannon, Stephen Miller, and certainly others, put in Trump’s mouth was a language of white fear and paranoia that had been cultivated and amplified by Fox News for decades. With an emphasis on White Replacement Theory, a Neo-Nazi conspiracy that liberal traitors, working alongside puppetmaster Jews hiding in the shadows to subvert the country and overrun it with immigrants to shift the balance of power, the message was clear. America was no longer a country for, by, and of white people, a message that had reverberated through the halls of power for centuries. There was a conspiracy, a plot, and if the Right did nothing to stop it, then the apocalypse would fall upon them, creating a government where power would never be returned, and their entire lives and reality might be destroyed.
This is what they mean when they talk of “Western Civilization.” A concept that white people, as a master race, have steered and controlled history, creating magnificent works of art, infrastructure, and the very fabric of reality within which we currently exist. It’s an achievement to them, an honor and near-miracle that, in the face of so many people of color, despite one conspiracy after another, that they have chiseled this world in the annals of time. To allow any change, to allow demographics to shift, to even allow another election to be held without strict limits that favor the white race, would be tantamount to surrender.
And so, they propose Hungary. A nation where elections are rigged, curricula only conveys a history where the ruling power is perfect and right, where immigrants are treated like parasites, where the scourge of liberalism, with its democracy and pluralism and associated individual rights, have been curbed. Out of necessity. Out of a “heroic” defense of the Western Civilization that might be destroyed any moment.
There is no emergency. Our society, as it is constituted currently, is changing demographically. Younger generations are questioning the decisions of the past and the status quo. This is natural and encouraging. If given the reins of power, they will not actively tear the country apart and there will be no apocalypse. Progress will occur. Reform and progress.
The alternative the Right is proposing is horrific by design. A regime of oppression through the law, through violence, and through coercion. What we have seen so far, with the embrace of cruelty at our border, with the celebration of violence and intimidation, with gunfights in the streets, marches of Neo-Nazis in Virginia, with an environment of threats and stalking in the media and culture, will only be amplified out of necessity should this plan be realized. Open society, with its freedoms, would be closed up as tight as Hungary’s razor-wire border To keep differing opinions, perspectives, and peoples out, and, by proxy, to keep people in.
Any movement like this, with its fascistic principles and aristocratic underpinnings, works in stages. First, it must garner support among a group of angry, bewildered citizens, enough that makes them capable and willing to employ violence or, at the very least, welcome violence by others. This is where we are now. If the means of power are seized, either through a coup, maneuverings, or even, heaven help us, legitimate elections, what comes next is the suppression of dissent and the establishment of a society where protestors and subversives think twice before they use their voices or natural rights. Once that is done, the next step is to deal with those who go ahead and say and think whatever they want regardless of the consequence.
We have seen this here in America before. The United States has operated, for the majority of its existence, as an anti-democratic state that hums to the interests of a wealthy, white minority. Others have been disenfranchised, enslaved, subject to genocide, violence, intimidation, and millions others silenced by the soft oppression of culture, their careers and communities, and outright attacks. What we are watching is the aggressive attempt to reestablish those circumstances, that cultural hegemony and control the Right enjoyed for generations. It is being pushed with the usual conspiracy theories and apocalyptic warnings that authoritarians always use.
That it is so obvious only makes it all the more terrifying.